Return to News Sep 29, 2023

Student Organization, Labor Union File New Voting Rights Lawsuit in Montana

Washington, D.C. – On September 29, Elias Law Group attorneys representing the Montana Public Interest Research Group (MontPIRG) and the Montana Federation of Public Employees (MFPE) filed a voting rights lawsuit challenging a new Montana election law, HB892. Although proponents claimed that the new law was simply meant to prohibit double voting, it goes much further than that, putting voters who have previously registered in other jurisdictions at risk of criminal penalties, even if they have no intention of voting in more than one place and never actually violate Montana’s double voting prohibition. By pairing vague new voter registration requirements with draconian criminal penalties, HB892 threatens entirely lawful, qualified voters with severe fines and imprisonment, chills the exercise of Montanans’ basic political rights, and is likely to lead to arbitrary enforcement.

“Millions of Americans have multiple voter registrations for valid reasons,” said Elias Law Group partner Aria Branch. “Maintaining multiple registrations or failing to include prior registration information on a voter registration application is not evidence that a voter intends to double vote. Yet HB 892 imposes severe criminal penalties for conduct that in almost every case is totally innocent. To make matters worse, the bill’s language is vague and unclear, making it hard for voters to know how to avoid these harsh penalties. HB892 will significantly hinder the civic engagement activities of organizations like MontPIRG and the MFPE and burden their members’ ability to exercise their fundamental right to vote. We are so proud to represent MontPIRG and the MFPE to challenge this unconstitutional law.”

“By employing vague language and unclear standards in a criminal statute—one that implicates the fundamental right to vote, no less—HB 892 violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process. By exceeding its legitimate aim of prohibiting double voting and punishing protected political expression, HB892 further violates the First Amendment. And by burdening the franchise, both directly and by chilling the right to vote through the imposition of onerous criminal penalties, HB892 separately violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” the complaint argues.

The Montana Public Interest Group is a student-directed, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to educating and empowering the next generation of civic leaders. The Montana Federation of Public Employees is Montana’s largest labor union, representing tens of thousands of working Montanans.

MontPIRG and MFPE are also represented by local counsel Graybill Law Firm.

Read the full lawsuit here.